Tulsi Gabbard's Aunt, a Prominent Samoan Poet, Allegedly Killed by Fellow Writer in Violent Dispute: Police

"We miss her, cherish the happy memories we shared and are keeping her in our prayers," the former congresswoman tells PEOPLE of her aunt Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard. "Hold close the ones you love"

<p>Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard/Facebook; Steven Ferdman/Getty</p> Poet Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard and her niece Tulsi Gabbard

Caroline Sinavaiana Gabbard/Facebook; Steven Ferdman/Getty

Poet Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard and her niece Tulsi Gabbard

Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard's aunt Caroline “Sina” Sinavaiana-Gabbard was killed last month following an alleged dispute with her protege, Papalii Sia Figiel, according to police.

The Daily Beast reports that Sinavaiana-Gabbard was found dead on May 25 at Figiel's GaluMoana Theater in Vaivase-uta area of Samoa. The writer, acclaimed poet, professor and environmentalist was 78 years old.

According to police, Sinavaiana-Gabbard was allegedly stabbed multiple times and beaten with a hammer by Figiel, 57, per the outlet. Spectrum News cites police as saying that following their alleged dispute, Figiel hid at a friend's house, and was subsequently arrested there. A possible motive for the killing is being investigated, as per Hawaii News Now.

Figiel was originally charged with manslaughter, but after an investigation, the charges were upgraded to murder, Samoa police commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo said during a news conference. Figiel is expected to appear in court on June 10.

<p>Courtesy of Tulsi Gabbard</p> Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard with nieces Tulsi and Vrindavan

Courtesy of Tulsi Gabbard

Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard with nieces Tulsi and Vrindavan

Tulsi, 43, tells PEOPLE in an email that her aunt Caroline was her dad's only sister, and "the only relative of ours who lived in Hawaii when I was growing up."

"I spent a lot of time with her as a kid at her cottage in the back of Manoa valley. She often shared her poetry with me, and encouraged me to pursue my own writing," Tulsi said. Sinavaiana-Gabbard published Alchemies of Distance, a collection of poetry, in 2002.

She continued: "The news of this horrific tragedy sent shockwaves through our family. We miss her, cherish the happy memories we shared, and are keeping her in our prayers. Life is short. Hold close the ones you love, and make the most of every day we are blessed with life."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard, a former professor at the University of Hawaii, was the older sister of Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard, Tulsi's father. She was distinguished as the first scholar of Samoan ancestry to receive a professorship at an American university.

She has degrees from Sonoma State University, University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Hawaii.

“Caroline was my best friend as a teenager,” Mike, 76, said in a statement to Spectrum News. “I love her deeply and wish her well as she continues her journey. While I sincerely forgive the murderer of this horrific crime, I’m hoping justice will be served, and that person will be punished to the full extent of the law.”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.